Maskedart Blog

Zanni in the Italian Mask Tradition "La Commedia dell'Arte"

23 January, 2016 1 comment Leave a comment

The Zanni mask played a very important role in the "Commedia dell'Arte" origin of the mask tradition.

Zanni Mask Italian Tradition "Commedia dell'Arte"

This is because it benefited from an extensive visual documentation, illustrations from the early 16th century called "The Dance of Sfessania", that show devils dancing with masks and phallic noses in Venetian contexts. These Dances are the first clear images of the wide-spread and established variety of theatre movements made by characters in masks and costumes. The name comes from the Venetian slang for the Italian name Giovanni, John.

Sfessania Dance Mask Tradition Commedia dell'Arte

The iconography of the masked Zanni plays a fundamental role in the origins of the Italian Comedy: La Commedia dell’Arte. All the Zanni masks eventually evolved into the classic Italian masks - Arlecchino, Pulcinella, Pantalone, Brighella. As proof that they were all Zanni to start with, there was a time when the masks were called Zanni Pantalone, Zanni Arlecchino, Zanni Brighella…. they were all born from this, shall we say, evil mask, originated from the Middle Ages.

The Zanni in this picture is a creation by Guerrino Lovato, creator of  Mondonovo Maschere.  It is mask white as a bone, with sunken eyes and a long protruding nose. It has also been used in the movie The Merchant of Venice, based on Shakespeare’s work. In the movie, two Venetian friends are wearing masks, one wears the white Zanni and the other one wears a red Arlecchino. The film was a great success, thanks to its splendid production and to the role played by Al Pacino, the well known actor… with Italian origins.

Zanni Mask in The Merchant of Venice

Listen from the author how Zanni is an important character in the origin of the Italian mask tradition "La Commedia dell'Arte". It appears since the beginning of 16th century and evolved into the classic Italian masks.

Original decoration from The Fenice Theatre in Venice

08 January, 2016 0 comments Leave a comment

This an original full scale reproduction of the many decorations that adorn the cavea of the Gran Theatre La Fenice in Venice, which was rebuilt in 2003. It was Guerrino Lovato's task to recreate all the decorative forms in the cavea of The Fenice, drawing and moulding the prototypes. This is one of them.  

It represents a leaf man, a wild man (Homo Selvaticus). It’s a decorative feature with a long tradition. Especially in the Gothic Era, vegetable shapes were often combined with human forms, with male or female faces. This is the image of a bearded man. 

Decoration from The Fenice Theatre by Guerrino Lovato

As a garland around the theatre’s cavea, there are about 30 of these ornaments, all of the same size, made of golden papier-maché. The "nereid woman" on the right is also made by Guerrino Lovato.

La Fenice Decoration



Art enigma revealed in "The Adoration of the Shepherds" by Peter Paul Rubens

14 December, 2015 0 comments Leave a comment

Dear friends,
this is an enigma with a hidden story. Why this one? Because it is not what it seems. It’s an art enigma with a hidden story. Here are two questions for you:

  1. Why is the old lady showing her hands to Mary, and she is not looking the baby Jesus?
  2. Why is the shepherd in red not looking but only pointing at baby Jesus?


Guerrino Lovato tells that this picture is representing a lost story about Salomé, the disbelieving midwife from the Gospel of Saint Jacob.  The old midwife could not believe that Mary was giving birth to a child without losing her virginity, so she checked by herself. Right after that her hands turned all stiff and she couldn’t move them anymore. Desperate and aware of the fact that she had made a mistake by disbelieving, she asked the Madonna: “What am I going to do now with these useless hands?” The Madonna answered: “Touch the new born Jesus and you will see your hands healing”. Salomè touched Jesus and she healed. Thanks to the miracle, she had faith. On the other hand, the shepherd in red wonders too much and asks to the elder one on the left: “Is he really the son of God?”.  He becomes a believer only after it is explained to him. So now you can think about this painting in a new way. It’s not about blessing but all about believing. This is the last time that this tale appears in the story of art and then it vanishes forever.

We are pleased to send our best wishes with this painting by Rubens (1608), now exhibited at Palazzo Marino in Milano. Happy Christmas from Maskedart!

Enjoy the video about the disbelieving midwife


"Eyes Wide Shut" Original Masks story behind the scenes

09 December, 2015 0 comments Leave a comment

"Eyes Wide Shut" masks were commissioned by Stanley Kubrick's art director to "Mondonovo" in Venice. The famous workshop created by Guerrino Lovato is now transformed into an Heritage Museum in Malo (Vicenza). Lovato is a famous scupltor, he produced for theatre, cinema and many international projects as the reconstruction of  the Moscow's Kremlin, the decoration of "The Venetian" in Las Vegas... and more. This is the story from Guerrino's own words: 

"In 1997 an English lady art director came into my shop “Mondonovo Maschere” in Venice to buy a number of very elaborate and very expensive masks, which she said were to be used in a movie by Stanley Kubrick that was being shot partly in London and partly in the States. She didn’t tell me anything else, but I was asked to keep it a secret, and not to show the masks that she had bought. We made about 30 masks, each of them in duplicate copies. We didn’t know why this was requested – perhaps for a magic mirror trick? Or maybe just to have a backup copy in case one got lost or damaged. Well, anyway we fulfilled the order and made the masks. Later in 1998 they came back to buy some more, again still asking for our secrecy and discretion, and of course we obliged. In the 2000 the movie came out and we were able to recognize our models in many scenes.

Eyes Wide Shut Mask

My Columbus mask plays an important role in the scene of the orgy where a naked girl approaches Tom Cruise and  warns him to leave that place at once. Then, he is approached by a man, who behaves oddly, and makes him feel very uneasy for being there, again, with the aim of making him leave. The man in question is wearing my Columbus mask. The naked woman and Christopher Columbus remind me, in a inverted way, of The Divine Comedy’s characters of Virgilio and Beatrice who lead and seduce Dante through his journey in the underworld. Just like Christopher Columbus - the discoverer of the New World – they lead and  guide the main character of the movie, only to send him away. The concept that Kubrick chose to represent in the scenes of the masked people seems Dante’s idea in reverse. This rare photo with the Columbus mask character is one of the last images of the great director since he died during editing the movie.

Kubrick-with-Columbus-MaskThey told me at first Kubrick’s idea was that Tom Cruise would have gone into a club, where everybody would wear masks made by the same mask maker. So the initial idea was different. Kubrick wanted to give a sense of uniformity, where all the participants knew each other, and were from the same closed club.
Then he changed his mind. As it turned out, the main character in the film feels unwanted and is banished from the group. Kubrick gave the scene a sense of disorientation and bewilderment, which was conveyed by using masks from different artists, some from Venice and some from elsewhere, to give the idea that the guests in this castle didn’t know each other and therefore had bought their masks and fancy dresses from different places, made by different artists.
I spotted many of
my masks in the movie, but just 4 are in the foreground: Columbus, Diamante, Urlante, Archaic Sun."

Eyes Wide Shut is a symbolic and metaphorical film. For example, the password for the orgy is "Fidelio," a word that points at the theme of marital fidelity and it is also the opera by Beethoven, who Kubrick liked so much. The opera tells how Leonore, disguised as a prison guard named "Fidelio," rescues her husband Florestan from death in a political prison.


Mahakala rare mask from Nepal with third eye focus

02 December, 2015 0 comments Leave a comment

The real focus of this Mahakala mask is dedicated to the third eye, powerfully represented on the forehead with a carved Buddha face raised in high relief and decorated with a crown of glass beads and a tiara. Coming out of the mouth are five drapes of colored fabrics representing the five affliction of humanity: greed, envy, pride, anger, and ignorance transformed into the five wisdoms (more commonly represented with a crown of five skulls).
The mouth of the masks is contorted to an angry smile from its corners protrude long fangs. Five drapes are also coming out from the huge mouth of the mask as to represent the same attitude in mind and behaviour. This mask has many details for further study... metal plates, chians and badges... and also symbols like a scarab, used in madala as a spirit protector. 

Pieces such as this are known as "host of ornaments" and are kept in chapels dedicated to the dharmapalas, wrathful protectors of Buddhism.
Mahakala can be translated as the Great Destroyer, the Great Black One. Considered to be an aspect of the Hindu god Shiva, he defends the Dharma from corruption. Mahakala is a deity that protect by eliminating the obstacles and impure thoughts through our journey to enlightenment. The black colour of his body represents the unchangeable nature of Dharma. 


Demon Woman Mask from "Oni" Japanese tradition

09 November, 2015 2 comments Leave a comment

Bad emotions makes you a demon. Remember what happened to Gollum from "The Lord of the Rings"? It's an old story that goes on and on all over the world. In popular ancient Japanese tales, human emotions, such as rage and jelousy, turned women into "Oni" while still alive. It is the case of Yuki-onna, usually described with white skin, a white kimono, and long black hair. She appears in snowfall like a demon ghost to feed herself with human essence. She kills her victims freezing them to death and sucking their souls out of their mouths. Among many tales, there is also the one of Yamauba, the mountain ogress, who has a penchant for eating human flesh... hiding mouths under her hair... Extraordinary powerfull mask like this one were carved to act in theatre or popular folklore for hundreds of years.